Turner drew on his considerable experience as a marine painter and the brilliance of his technique as a watercolorist to create this view, in which the foundations of the palaces of Venice merge into the waters of the lagoon by means of delicate reflections. He based the composition on a rather slight pencil drawing made during his first trip to Venice, in 1819, but the painting is really the outcome of his second visit, in 1833. He exhibited this canvas to wide acclaim at the Royal Academy, London, in 1835.
Turner made three trips to Venice, in the late summers of 1819, 1833, and 1840, and the present painting, exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1835, must have been painted upon his return from his second visit, presumably using his own drawings and watercolors as source materials. Critical commentary was extensive and mostly favorable, and when its first owner, Munro of Novar, sold it in 1860, John Ruskin Senior proposed to Gambart that twenty gentlemen should be found who would contribute to the purchase price so that, "as Turner is so little known and so little esteemed on the Continent," the work could be presented to the Louvre.
Among the pencil drawings in the 1819 Milan-to-Venice sketchbook in the Turner Bequest at Tate Britain, London, there are two that could perhaps have been used as aides-mémoire. The first (Finberg no. CLXXV, fol. 54), quite detailed and showing the church of Santa Maria della Salute from the opposite direction, was made from the other side of the Grand Canal. The second (Finberg no. CLXXV, fol. 67a), slighter, must have been drawn from a boat and illustrates the mouth of the canal, with palaces in front of the bell tower of San Marco to the left and the Dogana, or customs house, to the right. There is a related watercolor, from either 1833 or 1840, at the Tate (Finberg no. CCCXVII b 23) and another, of about 1840, in the British Museum (1958,0712.443).
The painting was engraved twice, in 1838 by William Miller and in 1850 by Robert Brandard. Both prints include Turner’s initials on a plank at the lower left, but these are not found on the painting and as far as is known were never there. John Ruskin owned an example of Miller’s engraving and greatly admired it, mentioning it often in his writings.
The title, Turner’s own, is not an accurate description of his subject. Longhena’s Baroque church of Santa Maria della Salute does not have a porch, and no view of Venice from the church resembles this one, which is a bird’s-eye view taken from a height above the Grand Canal that can only be imagined. There are discrepancies of scale and topographical detail, all of which represent choices made by a skilled draftsman who could have shown exactly what he had seen had he wished to do so. Turner brings the wealth of his experience as a marine painter and the brilliance of his technique as a watercolorist to the problem of merging the foundations of the palaces of Venice into the waters of the lagoon with its delicate reflections.
[2012; adapted from Baetjer 2009]
H. A. J. Munro of Novar, London (by 1847–60; sale, Christie's, London, March 26, 1860, no. 150, for £2,520 to Gambart); [Gambart, London, from 1860; sold to Heugh]; John Heugh, Manchester (until 1862; sold to Agnew); [Agnew, London, 1862; sold to Mendel]; Sam Mendel, Manley Hall, Manchester (1862–75; cat., 1867, no. 125; his sale, Christie's, London, April 24, 1875, no. 445, for £7,350 to Agnew); [Agnew, London, 1875; sold to Dudley]; William Ward, 1st Earl of Dudley, Dudley House, London (1875–d. 1885); William Humble Ward, 2nd Earl of Dudley, Dudley House (1885–1886/87; sold through Farrer to Vanderbilt); Cornelius Vanderbilt, New York (1886/87–d. 1899)
London. Royal Academy. 1835, no. 155 (as "Venice, from the porch of Madonna della Salute").
Royal Manchester Institution. "Works of Modern Artists," 1866, no. 637 (as "The Grand Canal, Venice", lent by Sam Mendel).
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. "Paintings, Drawings and Prints by J. M. W. Turner, John Constable, R. P. Bonington," March 21–April 28, 1946, no. 12.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Art Treasures of the Metropolitan," November 7, 1952–September 7, 1953, no. 136.
London. Agnew. "150th Anniversary Loan Exhibition of Paintings and Watercolours by J. M. W. Turner, R.A.," November 1–December 2, 1967, no. 18.
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. "Masterpieces of Painting in The Metropolitan Museum of Art," September 16–November 1, 1970, unnumbered cat. (p. 100).
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Masterpieces of Fifty Centuries," November 15, 1970–February 15, 1971, no. 361.
Paris. Grand Palais. "J. M. W. Turner," October 14, 1983–January 16, 1984, no. 63.
Essen. Museum Folkwang. "William Turner: Licht und Farbe," September 15, 2001–January 6, 2002, no. 105.
Kunsthaus Zürich. "William Turner: Licht und Farbe," February 1–May 26, 2002, no. 105.
London. Tate Britain. "Turner and Venice," October 9, 2003–January 11, 2004, no. 39.
Fort Worth. Kimbell Art Museum. "Turner and Venice," February 15–May 30, 2004, no. 39.
Washington. National Gallery of Art. "J. M. W. Turner," October 1, 2007–January 6, 2008, no. 106.
Dallas Museum of Art. "J. M. W. Turner," February 10–May 18, 2008, no. 106.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "J. M. W. Turner," June 24–September 21, 2008, no. 106.
London. Tate Britain. "Turner and the Masters," September 23, 2009–January 31, 2010, no. 85.
Paris. Galeries Nationales du Grand Palais. "Turner and the Masters," February 22–May 24, 2010, no. 85.
Madrid. Museo Nacional del Prado. "Turner and the Masters," June 22–September 19, 2010, no. 85.
Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum. "Earth, Sea, and Sky: Nature in Western Art; Masterpieces from The Metropolitan Museum of Art," October 6, 2012–January 4, 2013, no. 127.
Beijing. National Museum of China. "Earth, Sea, and Sky: Nature in Western Art; Masterpieces from The Metropolitan Museum of Art," February 8–May 9, 2013, no. 127.
Literary Gazette (May 9, 1835), p. 298 [see Ref. Butlin and Joll 1977].
Spectator (May 9, 1835), p. 447 [see Ref. Butlin and Joll 1977].
The Observer (May 10, 1835) [see Ref. Butlin and Joll 1977].
Examiner (May 10, 1835), p. 294 [see Ref. Butlin and Joll 1977].
"The Royal Academy." The Times (May 23, 1835), p. 5.
Fraser's Magazine 12, no. 67 (1835), pp. 52–55 [see Ref. Butlin and Joll 1977].
"Visits to Private Galleries." Art-Union 9 (July 1, 1847), p. 253.
John Ruskin. Letter to his father, John Ruskin Sr. September 11, 1851 [see Ref. Cook and Wedderburn 1903–12, vol. 10, 1904], as "Munro's picture"; observes that his lodgings in Venice are "just 'out' of the picture on the left-hand side of it".
John Burnet and Peter Cunningham. Turner and His Works. London, 1852, p. 117, no. 184.
[Gustav Friedrich] Waagen. Treasures of Art in Great Britain. London, 1854, vol. 2, p. 141.
Art-Journal (1857) [see sale cat. 1860], as "so much admired, that it occasioned . . . a succession of pictures of this renowned city"; "the vessels in the canal have 'dressed ship,' and are therefore hung with their gayest colours".
John Ruskin. Catalogue of the Turner Sketches in the National Gallery, Part I. 1857 [see Ref. Cook and Wedderburn 1903–12, vol. 13, 1904].
John Ruskin Sr. Letter to Ernest Gambart. April 26, 1860 [see Ref. Maas 1975], proposes finding twenty gentlemen to subscribe with him towards buying it to present to the Louvre, "as Turner is so little known and so little esteemed on the Continent".
John Ruskin. Modern Painters. Vol. 5, London, 1860 [see Ref. Cook and Wedderburn 1903–12, vol. 7, 1905].
Walter Thornbury. The Life of J. M. W. Turner, R.A. London, 1862, vol. 1, pp. 232, 326; vol. 2, pp. 380, 399, 406, states that "Turner went to Venice for Mr. Munro, insisting on his travelling expenses being paid," and that Munro commissioned a drawing; Turner returned with this "large ambitious painting, which Mr. Munro never much took to"; notes that Turner "was greatly mortified at seeing Mr. Munro's disappointment, and would not at first sell him the picture, but at last consented".
Paintings, Drawings, Engravings, Sculpture, Carvings, Gold & Silver, Pottery, &c. n.p., 1867, no. 125, as "Venice—The Grand Canal".
John Ruskin. The Ruskin Art Collection at Oxford: Catalogue of the Standard and Reference Series. 1872 [see Ref. Cook and Wedderburn 1903–12, vol. 21, 1906].
John Ruskin. Notes on Mr. Ruskin's Own Handiwork Illustrative of Turner. 1878 [see Ref. Cook and Wedderburn 1903–12, vol. 13, 1904], calls it "a challenge to Canaletto, being nothing else than Turner's adaptation of the great Louvre picture of the 'Church of the Salute'" and observes that Turner "threw his whole strength into the boats and water, which Canaletto could not paint"; states that "there is no better representation of Turner's work by line engraving" than Miller's print.
W. Cosmo Monkhouse. The Turner Gallery: A Series of One Hundred and Twenty Engravings from the Works of the Late J. M. W. Turner, R.A. New York, [1879?], unpaginated, ill. (Brandard engraving).
John Ruskin. Præterita. Vol. 1, Sunnyside, Orpington, 1886 [see Ref. Cook and Wedderburn 1903–12, vol. 35, 1908], mentions that he wanted to buy "the engraving of Turner's Grand Canal" for his room wall at Oxford.
Cosmo Monkhouse. Turner. London, 1889, pp. 124–25.
Philip Gilbert Hamerton. Les artistes célèbres: Turner. Paris, 1889, p. 81, erroneously as in the National Gallery, London.
C. F. Bell. A List of the Works Contributed to Public Exhibitions by J. M. W. Turner, R.A. London, 1901, p. 127, no. 196, asserts [in error] that the painting is signed J. M. W. T.
Walter Armstrong. Turner. London, 1902, p. 234.
Masters in Art: Turner 3 (November 1902), p. 39.
Robert Chignell. J. M. W. Turner, R.A. London, 1902, p. 197.
E. T. Cook and Alexander Wedderburn, ed. The Works of John Ruskin. London, 1903–12, vol. 7, p. 149 n. 1; vol. 10, p. xxix; vol. 13, p. 213 n. 2, p. 498 n. 1; vol. 21, p. 41 n. 7; vol. 35, p. 256.
W. L. Wyllie. J. M. W. Turner. London, 1905, p. 99.
W. G. Rawlinson. The Engraved Work of J. M. W. Turner, R.A. London, 1913, vol. 2, p. 333.
P[ercy]. M[oore]. Turner. "Pictures of the English School in New York." Burlington Magazine 22 (February 1913), p. 275, pl. IIIE.
Harry Townend. J. M. W. Turner, 1775–1851. London, 1923, pp. 76–77.
A. J. Finberg. In Venice with Turner. London, 1930, pp. 85, 131–32, 155.
C. H. Collins Baker. British Painting. London, 1933, p. 287.
A. J. Finberg. The Life of J. M. W. Turner, R.A. Oxford, 1939, pp. 355, 499, no. 461.
Claus Virch. "'Ye Mists and Exhalations That Now Rise'." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 20 (April 1962), pp. 253, 256, ill. p. 255.
John Rothenstein and Martin Butlin. Turner. New York, 1964, p. 52.
Graham Reynolds. Turner. New York, 1969, pp. 158, 160.
Jeremy Maas. Gambart: Prince of the Victorian Art World. London, 1975, pp. 114, 301 n. 13.
Martin Butlin and Evelyn Joll. The Paintings of J. M. W. Turner. New Haven, 1977, vol. 1, pp. 193–94, 232, no. 362; vol. 2, pl. 342.
John Gage, ed. Collected Correspondence of J. M. W. Turner. Oxford, 1980, pp. 272, 282, observes that Munro told Thornbury that he sent Turner to Venice in 1833.
Evelyn Joll inA Dealer's Record: Agnew's, 1967–81. London, 1981, p. 148.
Evelyn Joll inJ. M. W. Turner. Exh. cat., Grand Palais. Paris, 1983, pp. 130–31, no. 63, ill.
Martin Butlin and Evelyn Joll. The Paintings of J. M. W. Turner. rev. ed. New Haven, 1984, vol. 1, pp. 212–13, no. 362; vol. 2, pl. 367 (color), note that it was cleaned in 1983.
John Pope-Hennessy. "Roger Fry and The Metropolitan Museum of Art." Oxford, China, and Italy: Writings in Honour of Sir Harold Acton on his Eightieth Birthday. Ed. Edward Chaney and Neil Ritchie. London, 1984, p. 231.
Lindsay Stainton. Turner's Venice. New York, 1985, p. 32, observes that "Turner exaggerates the width of the Grand Canal in the foreground and wrongly makes it seem to become narrower towards its entrance".
Eric Shanes. Turner. London, 1990, pp. 106–7, ill. (color), dates it 1835.
Robert Hewison, with Ian Warrell, and Stephen Wildman. Ruskin, Turner, and the Pre-Raphaelites. Exh. cat., Tate Britain. London, 2000, p. 54.
Evelyn Joll inThe Oxford Companion to J. M. W. Turner. Ed. Evelyn Joll et al. Oxford, 2001, p. 187.
Luke Herrmann inThe Oxford Companion to J. M. W. Turner. Ed. Evelyn Joll et al. Oxford, 2001, p. 361.
Charles Sebag-Montefiore inThe Oxford Companion to J. M. W. Turner. Ed. Evelyn Joll et al. Oxford, 2001, p. 194.
Ian Warrell. Turner and Venice. Exh. cat., Tate Britain. London, 2003, pp. 107, 113, 168, 270, no. 39, fig. 109 (color), suggests that of two related watercolors, a study on gray paper datable either to about 1833 or 1840 (fig. 180) "could well be the basis for" the present picture.
Ian Warrell inJ. M. W. Turner. Ed. Ian Warrell. Exh. cat., Washington National Gallery of Art. London, 2007, p. 129.
Andrea Fredericksen inJ. M. W. Turner. Ed. Ian Warrell. Exh. cat., Washington National Gallery of Art. London, 2007, pp. 151, 258, no. 106, ill. (color).
Katharine Baetjer. "'Canaletti Painting': On Turner, Canaletto, and Venice." Metropolitan Museum Journal 42 (2007), pp. 165, 172 n. 17, fig. 6, colorpl. 10.
Ian Warrell inVenice: From Canaletto and Turner to Monet. Ed. Martin Schwander. Exh. cat., Fondation Beyeler. Basel, 2008, p. 61.
Katharine Baetjer. British Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1575–1875. New York, 2009, pp. 230–33, no. 113, ill. (color).
David Solkin inTurner and the Masters. Ed. David Solkin. Exh. cat., Tate Britain. London, 2009, pp. 200–201, 234, no. 85, ill. (color).
Gary Tinterow inEarth, Sea, and Sky: Nature in Western Art; Masterpieces from The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Exh. cat., Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum. [Tokyo], 2012, pp. 192, 198–99, 261, no. 127, ill. in color (overall and detail) and b&w [Chinese ed., Hefei Shi, 2013, pp. 280–81, no. 127, ill. (color, overall and detail)].
Kathryn Calley Galitz. The Metropolitan Museum of Art: Masterpiece Paintings. New York, 2016, pp. 287, 297,431, no. 333, ill. pp. 343, 431 (color).